Date: 13:00-14:00, 9th October 2017
Location: Committee Room 5, House of Commons, Houses of Parliament, SW1A 0AA
Speaker: Amarjit Singh Dulat (former Special Director the Intelligence Bureau and former Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing)
Chair: The Rt. Hon. David Hanson MP & Dr John Hemmings (Director of the Asia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society)
Dr John Hemmings
We have a wonderful chair and a wonderful speaker today, both who speak I think directly to many of the issues that are shaping our world and particularly security in our world. Amarjit Dulat comes to us from India with an immense career in intelligence. He has a deep wealth in which to draw and we are very lucky to listen to – we don’t often get people with his background and calibre so we are very keen to hear from you. I am also delighted to welcome David Hanson who also has a background in the Labour Party as Minister for State and Security during his 26 year career.
David Hanson MP
Thank you. As has been said, I have been invited due to my being in the Intelligence and Security committee. At some point in the next week or so we are to reconstitute that committee. When we had a Labour government here, I was Minister of State for Counter Terrorism and Minister of State in Northern Ireland and the Prison Service. I am here today to introduce our speaker, Mr Dulat, who has served as head of research and analysis in the Indian spy agency. I’d like to handover for some introductory comments and then we will take some questions.
Thank you very much. It’s indeed a privilege to be here. Labour could be back in government soon… sooner than you think.
I will give you a little about intelligence, the limitations of it and the need for more cooperation and what’s happening in the world and how we should try and deal with it and where I think talking and dialogue becomes increasingly important.
Since you mentioned terror let me start there because in a sense we have had the brunt of it. From the mid80s to around 9 years ago, and because first we had the Punjab issues and then almost simultaneously an uprising in Kashmir. We didn’t get too much outside help. When we reached out to our friends, the Americans, they said ‘no, Kashmir was a freedom struggle and Sikhs are to deal with it’. Here, in Britain, I must admit MI5 was more forthcoming and we did get a lot of useful information. But again, not with regard to the Kashmiris and quite a few prominent Kashmiris based here in London funding the movement but we couldn’t get any cooperation. Now, 9/11 has been a watershed and the Americas changed very quickly once they talked about the war against terror. I was talking to robin Rafael in Istanbul a few years ago, and I said you know you caused us a lot of grief in the early 90s by referring to Kashmir as a freedom struggle. She said no it wasn’t me, it was the state department and I was only echoing what I was told to say.I don’t know how muich good the war on terror has done but the problem continues. I myself have served for almost 35 years in intelligence and by a stroke of luck I headed the organisation and even more lucky I think, I ended up in the Prime Minister’s office so coming here reminds me of a day about 50 years ago in March when I first went to Delhi from the state where I was allotted (Rajistan) as a young assistant superintended of police, looking at a massive sandstone building, I was overawed just I was coming here today. When I looked across the road and enquired what that was, I was told that was South Block and that is where the PMs office is. And who would have imagined that I would end my career in that office. I have been very lucky but like you said sir, most of my time has been spent in intelligence and mostly counter terrorism – mainly to do with Kashmir. I think back to my career and I think I got to where I did because of my involvement in Kashmir. When they were looking around and said ‘this guy looks alright’ so they brought me in. Otherwise I was due to retire as number 2 in the intelligence beraue. Those were good and happy days, interesting times, and I have always believed that Pakistanis insist that you have to talk, irrespective of what we do to you. Terror and talks can go together.
Then I would like to argue that all the dirty business that we are supposedly involved in can also go together. There is no contradiction. I think back that they were interesting times and I still remember briefly that one of my visits to Delhi, when I joined the intelligence, that there were quite a few prominent spooks around the world – Ephraim Halevy, George Tenet… [inaudible] and Richard Dearlove… and I must say that Britain had a very good and civilized system and very effective I’m sure. It would give 5 years to the chief and a knighthood thereafter. In India we are now lucky if the chief gets 2 years and he is forgotten thereafter. But counter terrorism kept us busy because of our neighbours on the West as Prime Minister says, you can choose your friends but not your neighbours, so I have always believed that we need to deal with Pakistan and we need to deal with them by engaging with them because if war is not an option, what else is there? It doesn’t make sense to sit and sulk and do nothing else despite what might be happening and Pakistan has always said that India is up to no good but as I said we bore the brunt of it and it’s still not over although Punjabi is over and Kashmir is almost settled.
Pakistan no longer figures seriously in the equation. Pakistanis may not accept this but they themselves have stopped talking about Kashmir. In the 2013 election in Pakistan and even someone like Imran Khan said ‘let’s put it on the backburner’ but Kashmir undeniably is an issue and I don’t see any problem in talking about it with Pakistan because they have more explaining to do than we have about all that has gone wrong there.
Now I mentioned Halevy who was head of Mossad and the normal impression of the chief of Mossad is that they must be very difficult to deal with, but he was a gentleman and more of a Dove than a Hawk. He consistently pleaded that Israel should engage with Hamas and a couple years ago he happened to be in Delhi and we held a forum together talking about world peace and dialogue and engagement. The man is still brilliant – he spoke more forcefully than I could do! So even in the intelligence world, wonders never cease. And I am reminded on the other side of a visit, I was then in the National Security Advisory Board, and I spent 2 years in the NSAB (2005-2007). And we had a visit from Henry Kissinger, and he said many things but two things I don’t forget because they were both significant and proved wrong. He said, ‘if NATO doesn’t sort out Afghanistan that will be the end of NATO’ and ‘if Iran does not fall in line, then Iran will be blown off the face of the Earth’. Now, I think NATO still exists… so I don’t know what Mr Kissinger was talking about.
Interestingly we had a visit from a German delegation at about the same time and they said they came to talk about dialogue. I thought NATO was about fighting, about finishing? They said ‘yes’, then we realised that we need to engage and talk. Since then I’ve been involved a lot in “track 2” and it might surprise you that I’m the only chief to have visited Pakistan not once, but four times. This is why some people were surprised the other day when at the LSE I had such a friendly chat with the current general.
During one of the visits to Karachi in 2012, this was a discussion or seminar organised by the Times of India and a group of newspapers on the Pakistan side. As an introduction we had what I found most interesting, the French ambassador and German ambassador to Pakistan both speaking. The main thrust of those speeches, mostly the German ambassador, is that Europe has had enough of war and we have decided that we will not let it happen again. Possibly that explains why under Angela Merkel, Germany still remains one of the more compassionate states.
So, that’s Europe. That has been my experience and actually, not in engaging does not make any sense at all because even if you look at the Cold War and the worst days of it, the CIA and the KGB did not stop talking. Neither did Kennedy and Khrushchev stop writing letters to each other. There is a belief that it was that correspondence of the two that saved the world from being possibly blown apart. So, I think talking makes a lot of sense – whatever else we have to do, we have to do – and I wouldn’t walk away from that because counter terrorism is serious business. But now, about 5 years ago, general [inaudible], a former ISI chief wrote a joint paper with me, on the need for intelligence cooperation and this was published simultaneously in Pakistan and India. It went down quite well but we still don’t talk. There is no arrangement for the agencies to interact – even though they have from time to time – and a tip off from the Indian intelligence saved Musharraf’s life. We don’t talk though. There is hardly any diplomatic relationship or political relationship and yet the two national security advisors are in contact with each other. From what one learns, the chemistry is pretty good which again brings me to my point that talking is a good option – if not the best – and I talked about 20 years in Kashmir, whatever else I might have done I spent a lot of time talking and it did me no harm. It did us no harm.
One of our former chiefs… possibly one of the best known Indian spooks used to say that if he wanted to dangle a carrot, he would send me to Kashmir. And if we wanted to send a stick he would send the current National Security Advisor [inaudible]. So I have waffled along long enough but if I had begun at the end, let me end at the beginning with the patrician of India – such a long time ago. In a sense I was a child of the devolution because I was less than 7 years old when this happened and as you are aware it was one of the largest migrations in world history apart from the violence that took place on both sides. That is where the Genesis of the India/Pakistan problem lies, even today, because that generation and even those much older than myself – a lot of them still haven’t been able to get over that shock. I grew up in Punjab and I must say that to me, a Muslim was a curiosity – we had none in school or college or university because Pubjab has just a small pocket of Muslims. It is only after I went to Kashmir that I realised not only did we have a Kashmiri school, but that we had a muslim school. It was there in Kashmir, listening pateintly to the Kashmiri, interacting with him and adapting at time to his way of thinking, that I finally understoof what Kashmir and the Muslims were all about.
Then I realised that in the world, if you want to settle anything, there must first be a willingness to listen which is quite often forgotten. We are not honest enough with ourselves. I was reading about the coverage of the Tory convention in Manchester and I recall the Home Secretary’s words who said ‘our values, freedoms and communities is what makes Britain a great country; and I think that’s true – I must compliment you on that. Having travelled quite a bit, I think it is here that people understand the Muslims better than anywhere else and that is why perhaps you are dealing with terror also has been most successful.
You know London is plagued by CCTV and MI5 has great technical capabilities but it’s more than that. Having been a field man, I can tell you that human intelligence and relationships are crucial. Thank you.
David Hanson MP
You mentioned luck and I have to say that working under Tony Blair, one of the most interesting 48 hours of my career was when 9/11 happened which again you never expect to find yourself in. The question I wanted to ask if given the changing nature of the threat – and whilst growing up the threat was nation threat vs nation threat (cold war) – and now it’s not nation state orientated and it has changed. I just wonder whether there’s any reflection on that in relation to the fact people are talking more and working more closely as the threats are different and to different political and cultural establishments.
There are state sponsors unfortunately and we know where they come from but we are talking a lot about radicalism and there has been radicalism but if you look at the world in recent years, there has also been ultra-nationalism, especially in Europe now. We have it in the Arab World too. So, Pakistan and us… but radicalism and ultra-nationalism, I think in a sense that they are two sides of the same coin. One leads the other. I don’t know if you’d agree but I think that’s something we need to look at. Why does one want to try and get through the gates of Parliament and get killed here? Look at what’s happening in America – it’s beyond belief that there is a person who owns 50 weapons and can one day go up the 32nd floor of a hotel and knock down more than 500 people of whom 59 are killed. I think the gun laws in the US are far too lax. This is one of the lessons we have learnt, although we lost 2 Prime Ministers from terrorists’ bullets or bombs. But you cannot import guns. It’s not about getting a license. If you want guns in the US you can get them.
This is an exciting but half mad world that we live in.
The security and prosperity of India is so crucial. I wondered if I could ask you a little more about the Pakistan situation. The amount of terrorism that they have suffered is astonishing but has now fallen. Equally, the terrible attack in Mumbai… the American’s are now taking a negative view of Pakistan from a security point of view. It’s difficult for us as outsiders to understand what drives the security situation in Pakistan which seems to be very complex and at times contradictory and very important.
Coming to Pakistan, it’s very difficult to fathom what goes on there. I thought one of the best books written about Pakistan was by Anatol Lieven (‘Pakistan: A Hard Country’) but right now Pakistan is again in a flux politically because we don’t know and I don’t think Pakistan itself knows whether the Sharif family can continue and what the future of the Muslims is in Pakistan.
Most interestingly, recently I heard that it could well be Imran Khan the next PM – who knows what will happen. But one thing is there that I will give the Pakistanis credit for. After Mumbai happened they were shaken because although they were very much behind it, when it happened the scale of it and the involvement of foreigners that shook them up. I think since then they have realised how much damage terrorism is doing to them and for them. But coming to the American Pakistan relationship, that’s a solid relationship – it’s not going anywhere. If Trump talks about a ‘new Iran’ policy I don’t think it’s anything big, but so I don’t see anything new there and I think the Americans have been trying to engage the Taliban. They have made contact, but it has not been successful to the extent that they expected it to be because the Taliban is clear that first they have to get out (they don’t want foreigners) and once you leave we will solve our mess. That is the problem. Now if you want to increase troops on the ground in Afghanistan, then the only way you can move forward is with the help of Pakistan because they know most of these countries and without Pakistan, I don’t think there will be any forward movement in Afghanistan.
You mentioned that the British and US intelligence contribution (or lack of) during the Kashmir crisis. During the cold war we have an understanding that although New Delhi was non-aligned you had a special relationship with Russia which continues today. Was there any counter-terrorism work done with then and how was the relationship back then?
Well there is a relationship between all agencies and you are right that there is a special relationship with Russia. Few countries politically are closely aligned and obviously it helps the agencies when they are. When we were dealing with Kashmir, the Russians could not be of much help because if anybody could help it was either Britain or the US and Britain did help but not in regards to Kashmir.
You mentioned Afghnaistan. The other day I attended your talk in LSE and a former Afghan intelligence officer was there. Afghanistan was very much pushed to the sidelines though. On the theme of dialogue, where do you think the line should be?
There is no other option in Kashmir but to talk. As I said, why are we afraid of talking to Pakistan? Certainly we need to talk to Kashmiris. They are an integral part of India. As far as Afghanistan goes, sooner or later, if there is to be a settlement there it won’t happen without the Taliban – they are there and it can’t be wished away.
How was the Taliban created? Where did the money come from, the funding? Who is responsible? The US is! So that’s what I am saying – we talk about terror and radicalism, but please also go back to how did it all start? Where did it start, what’s the genesis of it and why did it happen? That’s why I was complimenting Britain because I get the sense that you have a much smarter way of dealing with this – right or wrong.
There’s a lot of trouble brewing in certain parts of India. Indians are always said to be responsible for the terrorism going on.
Whenever anything goes wrong in Pakistan, India in blamed. When speaking at LSE, a few Pakistani boys asked some very uncomfortable questions. As far as I know there is no involvement – it is after my years. Of course things have happened and people have been held up, but God knows what’s happening. What I can tell you is that after 2004/05, there was no such in involvement of India anywhere in Pakistan.
In light of Trump’s recent Afghanistan strategy, I’d like to hear your views regarding his enlargement role regarding India in Afghanistan, specifically about Indian intelligence serving with the Afghan intelligence. Do you see this as a role that India could fulfill that perhaps Qatar has failed to do?
Interesting. But unfortunately we have never had a relationship with the Taliban. Not when they were in power. It’s unfortunate because we missed out on something and if we had a relationship with them it’s still possible and I don’t know, but if we had a relationship with them we could certainly help in any negotiations.
I’ve met a Taliban leader some years ago. He was handed over by Pakistan to the US and then went to Guantanamo Bay. He said to me ‘we like a relationship’ and he made it clear that the Taliban would like a relationship with India. But there are certain things you don’t need to know.
If there is any one message to take away, would it be that states have to communicate no matter? Or even more acutely with their adversaries? Even where there are no compatibilities, such as over Kashmir and the news at the moment focusses much more on North Korea which if you forget its context, is a state that wants nuclear weapons. So I’m wondering whether you believe that states are morally equivalent?
Obviously they aren’t equivalent. I’m glad you mentioned North Korea. The US secretary of State is on record saying that they have developed a direct relationship with North Korea. The world is beginning to realise that isolation is more dangerous than talking or engaging. You can do it directly or indirectly. President Trump’s reaction was to say that they are wasting their time but the Secretary of State has also referred to his President as a moron so…
From your experience, you mentioned terrorism is for own interests. In the 21st century, there’s a desperate need for the communities to sit together and work on the economics of the planet so a solution can be found against global terrorism. Is it possible?
My father was in the Indian army in the war against the Japanese. I think what gives the Indian/Pakistan relationship importance beyond the region is the nuclear dimension. So do you think it’s an example of nuclear deterrents that work or is it inherently dangerous and unstable and should there be more focus on reducing the risk of such bombs?
Yes this is a personal view about how much control you can have and from time to time even the Americans say that there is enough control on the weapons. And I presume you’re talking about Pakistan. I think it serves as a good deterrent – there’s no harm. The last time India and Pakistan actually fought a war was in 1971 or ’65 before that. It was purely accidental and Musharraf regretted it later on. I think there is a realisation in both countries that war is no longer an option. There are lone wolves though and you don’t know who is going to do what. That is the real danger today when we talk of radicalisation or terrorism, I think it is those on their own that are a problem because you might not be in communication with anybody about them.
The American’s didn’t know when India and Pakistan tested their weapons. That’s been acknowledged by George Tenet himself. There’s limitation to intelligence just like there is to security. There is no such thing as foolproof security or intelligence. Both here and in India we keep claiming how many terrorists we have busted but it’s not foolproof.